Updated: Jun 8, 2020
A new start; in defense of representational art.
The painting and sculpture I see around me have varied but similar purposes. It is allegorical, it is idealized and aspirational, and it is sensual. The faces and attitudes of the figures around the streets, museums, and galleries of Paris embody not only history (a microcosm of an empire) but a certain attitude; a sense of purpose. Representational art in the service of a new, post-revolution, national identity. The august and the serene, the pitiful, the pitying, and the benevolent hold stance in the ideological realm. This traditional code of realism is pervasive and has its own literacy. It is within the language of cinema, and that of advertising. As with any ideology, there is a persuasive sentimentality that appeals to cultural sensibilities.
Extreme circumstances, at times, provide a clear perspective on things. Watching a documentary recently (The art of the heist: the lady in gold, 2006. Electric Sky, Nigel Janes Director/Producer) about a painting that was taken from the family of a wealthy industrialist by the Nazis, I heard words to this effect; [It is ironic that those works taken by the Nazis, but not considered by them important, have become some of the most important works of the twentieth century]. Perhaps it is the case, in part, that because these works were not considered important by the Nazis, they are significant. It doesn’t surprise that the sentiment admired within a destructive regime is now repugnant. But does that mean that there is no place for realism because it can be suggestive of sentiment? Or is it not important to explore this phenomenon in traditional mediums as well as new? In a post-fascist Italy, in the face of a national crisis of identity, this deeply ingrained cultural code gave birth to neo-realist cinema (influencing in turn film-makers globally; see My Voyage to Italy, 2006. Martin Scorsese, Director/Producer). Nobody could deny the value of this sensitivity to shape, form, and to the expressivity of the human face and body. Neo-realism created a powerful new cultural narrative in much the same way that the art of the French revolution had forged a new story. In contemporary painting and sculpture, this potential is finding purpose outside of the political, cultural, religious, and nationalist, agendas. The sheer physical weight of sculpture and the expressed presence within painting speak to the experience of being human directly. Somewhere between physicality and lighter sensations of consciousness sits the relationship to representations of familiar human forms. As for post-colonial diasporas (if we can talk about such things), and their influences in both directions on our relationships to physicality? And in addition the attempted assimilation of one culture into and by another, each culture with their own relationship to representation as well as being comprised of people each with unique physical types? These are questions, as the questions suggest, with ramifications for the ancestors of the colonized and the colonizer.